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Dr Áine McMurtry

Aine McMurtryLecturer in German

Email aine.mcmurtry@kcl.ac.uk
Telephone +44 (0)20 7848 2167
Address Department of German
King's College London
Room 5.10 Virginia Woolf Building
22 Kingsway
London WC2B 6LE

 

Biography

Originally from Northern Ireland, Áine McMurtry studied French and German as an undergraduate and carried out postgraduate work at the Universities of Hamburg and Oxford, where she also held a Junior Fellowship at The Queen’s College from 2007-9. This fellowship enabled an extended residence in Vienna to research in the Manuscript Department of the Austrian National Library. Before coming to King’s in September 2012, Áine taught at the University of St Andrews, as well as at Durham, where she was lecturer in German from 2010-12. As Schools Liaison Officer for the Department of German at King’s, Áine particularly welcomes queries from language learners and language teachers.

Research interests and PhD supervision
  • Modern German and Austrian literature
    • Experimental Modes of Writing
    • Writing after the Holocaust, esp. Ingeborg Bachmann & Paul Celan
    • Multilingual Texts, esp. Yoko Tawada
    • Representations of the Voice
    • Representations of Crisis, Illness, Disturbance

Áine McMurtry’s research focuses on experimental modes of writing in modern German literature, with an emphasis on issues of aesthetic form and cultural critique. She is the author of Crisis and Form in the Later Writing of Ingeborg Bachmann, which appeared in the MHRA’s Bithell Series in 2012. This monograph casts new light on the late writings of one of the most important German-language writers of the post-1945 period. It is the most extensive study to date of poetic drafts written by Bachmann during a period of personal breakdown in the 1960s and their links with her later published prose work. Áine’s current research is on multilingual literature in German. Her concern is to examine modern literary representations of the voice in order to consider ways in which multilingual texts challenge, deconstruct and so develop our understanding of forms of language and discourse, of written and oral culture. 

Áine welcomes applications for postgraduate supervision on topics in twentieth- and twenty-first century German literature, in particular on Modernism, writing after the Holocaust and on multilingual texts.     

For more details, please see her full research profile.

Selected publications
  •  ‘Voicing Rupture: Ethical Concerns in Short Prose and Lyric Texts by Yoko Tawada’, Edinburgh German Yearbook, 7 (2013), 159-177
  • Crisis and Form in the Later Writing of Ingeborg Bachmann, MHRA Texts and Dissertations (London: MHRA, 2012)
  • ‘Writing Wrongs in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Late Writing’, in German Text Crimes, The German Monitor, 76, ed. by Tom Cheesman (Amsterdam, New York: Rodopi, 2013), 49-73  
  • ‘Die “gefallene Lyrikerin” - ein Verdikt und seine Wirkung’, in Mythos Bachmann: Zwischen Inszenierung und Selbstinszenierung, ed. by Wilhelm Hemecker and Manfred Mittermayer (Vienna: Zsolnay, 2011), 131-53
  • ‘“Liebe ist ein Kunstwerk”: The Appeal to Gaspara Stampa in Ingeborg Bachmann’s “Todesarten”’, in Women and Death 3: Women’s Representations of Death in German Culture since 1500, ed. by Anna Richards and Clare Bielby (Camden House, 2010), 152-73
  • ‘Reading Tristan in Ingeborg Bachmann’s Ich weiß keine bessere Welt and Malina’, German Life and Letters, 60:4 (2007), 534-53

 

For a complete list of publications, please see her full research profile.
Teaching

Áine McMurtry teaches courses on modern German literature and culture from the eighteenth to the twenty-first centuries, as well as on translation.

  • 6AAGLC06 Core Language III: Translation (Level 6)
  •  6AAGB621 Writing in Tongues: Multilingual Literature in the Modern German Context (Level 6)
  •  4AAGA114 Texts and Contexts (Level 4)
Expertise and Public Engagement

Áine McMurtry regularly engages with cultural and educational projects to present her research to a wider public. Recent events include:

UK Film Première & Public Interview: Blackstory and Still Life: Two New Austrian Films
Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), London: 5 December 2013

Public Talk: ISMLA German Day

Goethe Institute, London: 16 November 2013

Public Performance & Talk:  ‘Darkness Spoken’. The Letters of Ingeborg Bachmann & Paul Celan
Southbank Centre, London: 5 October 2013
Austrian Cultural Forum, London: 16 October 2013

Public Interview with the German author Felicitas Hoppe
The German School London, Richmond: 6 March 2013

Public Talk: German Study Day
St. Paul’s Girls’ School, London: 26 January 2013

Translation Workshop with the German author Felicitas Hoppe

King’s College London: 3 December 2012

Public Talk & Discussion: Ingeborg Bachmann’s War Diary
Austrian Cultural Forum, London: 6 November 2012

Áine McMurtry also serves as Reviews Editor for the journal Austrian Studies. She further organized and ran the Modern Languages strand of the first Sutton Trust Summer School that was held at King’s from 26-30 August 2013. She sits on the committee of the London consortium of Routes into Languages and frequently participates in schools and outreach events at King’s, as well as delivering talks on aspects of German Studies to local schools.

Aine McMurtry

What aspects of your role as Lecturer in German do you find most
enjoyable or inspiring?

The teaching and contact with students is one of the really rewarding aspects of the job. Whenever discussion goes well, that’s a high point of the week. I especially enjoy designing new courses. You can take texts or films or any other kinds of cultural objects and put them together in new constellations, and then get students thinking about them and interested in developing their own approaches, too. That’s been a highlight of the teaching experience. 

Obviously, there’s also the incredible freedom as an academic to pursue research interests, to go abroad, to get to know an archive really well, or to read contemporary writers and hear and interview them, for example. For me, that living connection with the people I’m looking at can be exciting.

I’ve been involved with other cultural projects beyond the university, which have been lots of fun, too. For example, getting filmmakers over to London, working with a UK theatre group and getting students involved in translation projects - those experiences really bring it all to life!

You’re from Northern Ireland and have studied in Germany, Austria
and various locations in the UK – but what do you enjoy most about
working in London?

In terms of the university experience, it’s probably the diversity and the independence of the student body. People who come to a big city usually have opinions about the world, and that’s been refreshing. 

There are also the cultural offerings, cinemas and theatres, contemporary arts events, readings and the possibility to have German language culture in London in a form that you wouldn’t get anywhere else in the UK. 

I like being based in a big city. I live in Hackney and it’s got a big Turkish community, which reminds me of parts of Berlin.

What does your current research focus on and what do you hope
to discover?

My new project looks at multilingual writing in German and I’m interested in textual representations of the voice, but also in poets who are interested in performance work and doing readings and collaborations with musicians. 

I’m predominantly looking at writers who are writing in German as a second language, so Japanese-German, Spanish-German, Serbian-German and Turkish-German would be examples of writers I’ve looked at lately. Yoko Tawada is a major interest. 

I’m interested in the voice as something that you suddenly become aware of whenever you speak in a foreign language. So, whenever I speak English it just flows out, but whenever I speak German it’s suddenly coming from my body. I’m aware of the way my tongue is working or my throat is contracting and so there’s a sense of the corporeal experience of the voicing, which is also a kind of material immediacy. 

On the other hand, there’s also an intellectual detachment as I work out which German words need to go in what order and how phrases and sentences get formed. I suppose that gives me, as a non-native speaker, a different perspective on the act of producing language and my relationship with that language. 

I think that the voice speaking another language is a phenomenon in which these two aspects – material immediacy and intellectual detachment - come together in a tension. I’m interested in looking at that productive tension and how it functions in literary works. How writers working in a second language can use that perspective to make comments about how discourses get produced, what power relations exist in forms of language and how playful or experimental engagements with a foreign language can offer an alternative view or perspective.

Who or what has inspired your research the most?

That’s a tricky one. I think what I’ve really liked about studying Modern Languages has been the experience of living abroad. I think that’s something very special about studying a degree in languages, in that you will go abroad and spend a few years experiencing life in different languages.

I started my PhD in Hamburg and spent two years in northern Germany attending a huge university, getting lost in the library and in lectures with 200 people. I came back to Britain for a couple of years, and then went out to Vienna where I spent another few years. I worked on manuscripts in the archives of the national library there. That was a more relaxed, central European experience. I lived in a huge flat share and had flat mates who did all kinds of things, and that was a very free and fun time. You build so many contacts there, just going to readings or the cinema or meeting people in the pub. 

What books would you recommend to German students for pleasure
rather than study?

I don’t know if I would always differentiate the two. But for students learning the language, authors writing in German as a second language can often work really well. 

It’s that kind of playful engagement with the language that often appeals. The recognition of similar problems with cases or why certain words are masculine and feminine, and I think there can be a real identification there and enjoyment. 

So, writers like Brazilian-German Zé do Rock and Russian-German Wladimir Kaminer, who’s written things like Russendisko (Russian Disco). They’re often more light-hearted works. 

Yoko Tawada’s Talisman is a collection that’s written from the perspective of a Japanese woman new in Germany and her wonder, puzzlement and ironic take on things that she comes into contact with. 

Those books work well in the classroom and I think would be suitable for sixth-form students. 

There’s also a nice Turkish-German TV show called Türkisch für Anfänger (Turkish for Beginners) and that’s the story of a Turkish-German stepfamily in Berlin. The father is a Turkish policeman, the mother is a German psychologist and the teenagers don’t exactly hit it off when they all move in together. The series is very funny and usually goes down well with school learners of German.

Does music help with language learning?

I think it can, also at younger levels. I’m Schools Liaison Officer for German and I’ve been involved with the Routes Into Languages network. We run events at schools where school children are asked to compose songs in a language or write lyrics. At primary school and younger levels at secondary school, that can work really well. And, to think about the other side of the coin, in terms of understanding the history of music in a broader sense, the German tradition is central. We’ve got an excellent Music department at King’s and offer a joint degree in German and Music that regularly attracts very strong students. 

Why should students choose to study German at King’s?

German is one of the most important and significant languages in Europe, both in cultural and historical terms. Germany as a country is also one of the most powerful, important and influential, economically and politically today. 

So, to study German is to learn one of the key languages in Europe, if not the world, and also to get a sense of a very long tradition that’s absolutely crucial in the European context. 

The German Studies programme at King’s is one of the most wide-ranging in the country. We’ve got a department that’s composed of cultural historians, literary scholars, medievalists, early modernists, Professors of Comparative Literature, Film Studies experts and political scientists. German Studies at King’s, especially in your first year of your degree, is very broad and we encourage our students to sample from the range. Typically, students will have some political and historical modules, as well as engaging with works of German literature from the medieval to the present day, and will learn about German cinema, too. Together with the language skills acquired in the course of the degree, the broad historical, cultural and literary training that our students receive makes them very well-placed for entering the job market and our employment statistics post-graduation are amongst the very best in the UK.  

The German department here is the second oldest in the country, but with the Political Science and Film Studies focus it’s also one of the most cutting-edge, so we can offer our students a real breadth of experience in their studies. And in extra-curricular terms, we’ve got a very active German Society, as well as a German-language newspaper produced entirely by our students and an annual German Play, which means that there’s always something going on in the department. 

The cultural possibilities I mentioned earlier in London are second to none in the UK, and we’ve been working hard to get students involved in experiencing German in London. Our students have worked on translation projects with the Institute of Contemporary Arts (ICA), they’ve come along to theatre performances that we’ve been involved with at Shakespeare’s Globe, the National Theatre, the Austrian Cultural Forum and at the Southbank Centre, and we’ve had Austrian filmmakers come over and go into their classes where they got to speak to them and talk to them about their projects. I think that kind of living engagement with contemporary artists is something that’s really special about the London context. We’ve also had major authors come over to run translation workshops. Felicitas Hoppe is one of the most significant authors in Germany today, and she visited us last year. Some of our staff and students are also involved with an online translation project at the Wiener Library and have been working on cataloguing witness testimonies from Reichskristallnacht, the pogrom against Jews throughout Nazi Germany and parts of Austria in November 1938. All of these cultural initiatives are particular to King’s and really bring the programme to life in giving our students a clear sense of future directions after graduation.   

What’s the best advice you could offer a GCSE or A Level student
hoping to study in the School of Arts & Humanities at King’s?

Read widely and be interested in the subject. Be as specific as possible about what interests you and give concrete examples of what you’ve done, experience you’ve had and why you think that learning a language and studying its culture and history are important. Identify things that have changed your thinking or have been significant for you.

Can you tell us about your other recent projects in London?

Over the summer I was working together with a small theatre company called Aya Theatre. It’s a theatre company based in London that’s especially interested in experimental works of European literature. Together with their director and actors, Austrian video artists and an Austrian sound artist, we put together a production of the letter correspondence between two leading German poets, Ingeborg Bachmann and Paul Celan, of the postwar period.

Paul Celan was Jewish and his family was murdered in the Holocaust, and Ingeborg Bachmann was brought up in provincial Austria. Her father was an early member of the Nazi party and spent the war fighting for the Germans on the Eastern front. The poets’ relationship in the postwar period reflected central tensions and fractures of that historical moment, which are articulated in the letters. They’re fascinating historical literary documents, as well as testifying to a passionate love affair between two poets. It’s a really interesting textual work.

I worked on Bachmann for my doctorate so that was why I got involved with the project. Quite recently, the collected letters of the two poets was published in German and then translated into English and the project was to put together an English-language performance of these letters. 

It was a new experience for me, because I’d never worked in that way before and had always been more preoccupied with an academic analysis of text. This was a rewriting of letters and thinking about their dramatic performance as well as the relationship between the text, the images and the sounds and working with the director and actors as well. 

My role was to advise on the reworking and to feed into the readings by commenting on what I knew about the background or commenting on the translations. That was brilliant. It was premiered at the Southbank Centre as part of the Rest is Noise festival. We had a really big audience and the piece has been performed since at the Austrian Cultural Forum and we’re hoping to take it around the country as well. That’s been a great part of my remit mediating between the university and bringing German-language writers to a wider public. 

A second project was in December 2013. When I was living in Vienna I knew two film students who were working on their first films. The films were released last year to fairly great acclaim in Austria, so I had the idea that we could get both directors over to London for a UK première. 

I got some funding from the university and enlisted the support of the Austrian Cultural Forum and persuaded the ICA that they should screen the films. There was a short film called Black Story and a longer feature film called Still Life, both of which engage with issues of sexuality and abuse, and familial relations and violence – all subjects that have a long tradition of cultural representation in the modern Austrian context. We got the filmmakers to come over, and they were really keen because they also came to classes and talked to our students about the films. As well as the UK première at the ICA, we organized a German film afternoon for a hundred local sixth formers. The directors said that the trip was a brilliant first experience for them as well. 

 

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